All her life, she played almost every sport (although not at a national or state level). At nine years, Shireen Vana was one of the youngest to be selected for a white-water rafting expedition from India to China through the Indo-US White Water River Rafting Institute. Those selected trained for five years. Every year a few were eliminated, yet Shireen made it to the top six chosen for the final expedition. But, as fate would have it, 14-year-old Shireen’s dream was short-lived.
In 2002, just two months before she could leave, she met with an accident. “I had gone to the washroom and as I was walking out, I slipped and my hand hit the tap. The tap came off and the coil water heater (which was on for two hours) fell, burning my thighs and knees with the boiling water it stored. I spent a year in hospital; changing doctors in Nagpur for six months before my deteriorating condition prompted a move to Ahmedabad for another six months. I was even put on a ventilator for a day,” she recalls. Exactly a year later, she was out of hospital. But her muscles had degenerated and she took almost two years to learn to walk and sit again. She could only bend her knees five per cent. Today, the 28-year-old still finds it painful to bend her knees.
Due to the terrible pain, she had to be administered anaesthesia almost every alternate day. “The doctors advised my parents not to allow me to study further. There went my dream of becoming an Air Force Pilot,” she says. So, she studied what she thought were lighter courses—Commerce, followed by an MBA in Finance Marketing and Animation. She then worked with Axis Bank for a while, but was not satisfied.
“I loved mountaineering and wanted to make a career of it. The physiotherapy I underwent for approximately three years didn’t help much, so I started working out. I didn’t have the physical capacity to climb mountains and needed to develop my stamina. A year before I filled the form for the Basic Mountaineering Course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), I started cycling and running. I filled the form in August and joined karate classes around the same time, asking my instructor to focus on my fitness rather than the technicalities of the martial art. I also did one-day camps as an assistant with one of my instructors (from the Indo-US White Water River Rafting Institute), who now conducts school camps.
In May 2014, she left her home town, Nagpur, for a 28-day course in Basic Mountaineering in Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand. “I thought that I may not be as good as the other girls, but I found myself on par with them. Before I left for Uttarkashi, I had gone to Khandala for a karate camp and fell ill. The fever left me weak and the doctor advised me to cancel the trip, but I couldn’t. When I reached, I felt strong and forgot all about being sick. There was something magical about the mountains, I was so glad to be back,” she says, with passion in her voice.
Her family was not happy with her decision to return to adventure; her dad, who always supported her had become overprotective after the accident. When she told him about the course, he said ‘You’re not going and that is final!’ It was tough convincing him. “Khana nahi khaungi. Baat nahi karungi,” she told him. Finally, after a week he agreed, ‘Ticket kab book karna hai bata dena’. “There was a lot of drama involved, but karna padta hai. Dreams itne easily achieve hote, toh usey dream nahi kehte,” quips Shireen. Her persistent pain meant that she didn’t feel the pain of climbing. She didn’t find the course difficult, except for an activity that involved climbing up and down a chimney. It was only then that she informed her instructor about the accident and he told her it was not necessary for her to do it. But she managed, with a little help from him.
“I cried a lot the day before I left. The only thing I was scared of was failure,” says Shireen, who now plans to do the advanced course and open her own trekking company someday. Her bigger dream is to climb Mount Everest. “Never give up on your dreams no matter how difficult the situation is,” she gushes.